Houston Coley’s review published on Letterboxd:
It. Just. Ages. Better.
I turned this on in the background tonight thinking I’d switch it off after a few minutes, and as usual, I found myself enraptured just a couple minutes in. The editing. The sound design. The score. The pace. We’ve never seen Star Wars as cinematically literate as this.
I’ve been searching for years to find the single word that describes what The Last Jedi captures about Star Wars - I’ve even searched for foreign words that might sum it up - but for now, I might have to settle for “intertextual gravity.” Pretentious, I know. Still, one of the things that continues to reach out and grab me whenever I watch this movie is the way it seems pointedly aware of the weight, history, baggage and context of the iconography it depicts. That’s not to say the film is self-important or self-indulgent, of course; to be sure, The Force Awakens was equally aware of Star Wars iconography and history, but it didn’t have anything interesting to say about it. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, uses the fact that this story has been around for 40 years to reflect and muse upon the themes that continue to recur, the cycles that continue to repeat, and the poetry that continues to...well, rhyme. I’ve talked before about the world-weariness that can be found in Luke and Leia’s characters here, and to this day, the weight that the two of them carry gives the entire film a sense of scope and history that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s like they both know they’ve seen this war before, they both know Good will always be in dire straits, and they both know the cycles will repeat unless someone decides to change them.
Many people have misinterpreted The Last Jedi’s message to be about “letting the past die” and I don’t think that’s the right read at all - but undoubtedly, by the time Kylo Ren says “let the past die” in the film, we are supposed to see where he’s coming from. Kylo rightly observes that this world of emperors and planet-killers, rebels and empires, Jedi and Sith, failed masters and disobedient apprentices - it’s all doomed to repeat itself again and again if someone doesn’t take things in a new direction. Sounds a bit like Rian Johnson looking at the Star Wars franchise as a whole, no?
Characters like Rose and DJ, two of the new additions, are both fascinating to me (and also wildly invigorating) because they represent reflexive thoughts about Star Wars that could not have existed in previous iterations of this story. DJ is the detached nihilist who has resigned himself to the fact that the system cannot be changed and therefore believes it is best that he serve his own interests within it. For all intents and purposes, DJ is the Star Wars fan who has grown tired of the repetitive sequels about good vs. evil and just wants to watch The Mandalorian instead. In 2020 speak, he’s also something of a “true centrist” who has become so convinced that “both sides are equally guilty” that he stands for nothing and no one but himself and his pride. DJ probably would have voted for Kanye.
Rose, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. Rose is a character who embodies every “good, true, beautiful” idea of the original rebellion, even when those ideas seem old-fashioned and even ineffective in true wartime situations. And yet, Rose’s compassionate heart proves more effective than any artillery ever could; even on Canto Bight, Rose is more concerned with inspiring the oppressed and lighting the spark (changing and liberating hearts and minds) than she is with provoking vast military standoffs. Rose sees through the empty destructiveness of war, too; “we’ve destroyed three of these Death Stars,” she thinks, “and they just keep building them. Why do we keep trying to blow up our problems?” Many people have criticized Rose’s decision to save Finn from his suicide run destroying the laser toward the end, but she truly sees what Finn can’t: even if he destroys the laser, it won’t save their friends. The empire will always be bigger and stronger and capable of annihilating them if they get the chance. This war cannot be won by empty explosions for the sake of vainly sacrificial showmanship. This war can only be won by keeping the spark alive and living to inspire another generation, not simply to blow up more Death Stars, but to come together and hope again. That’s the only way the cycle ends.